Roti and the Widow from Zarephath

What can you do with a handful of flour, a little oil and water without yeast or leavening agent? In 1 Kings 17:12 these were the 3 ingredients available to the widow of Zarephath for her to prepare her last meal for herself and her son before they starved to death.

The Jews have this recipe for flat bread, they call it Matzo. In fact, in almost every culture there’s some form of unleavened flat bread using these ingredients. The Yemeni have a flatbread called Melawah. The technique used to make Melawah is almost the same as our local unleavened flat, the Roti Canai. Roti Canai essentially just requires these 3 ingredients – flour, oil/fats, water. And you don’t even need any utensils to roll it out. Just “tebar” (toss) it and slap it on a hot “tawa” (flat griddle).

The background in 1 Kings 17 was that there was a great drought and famine in the land. Elijah was hiding in Kerith Ravine and was drinking from a brook and ravens miraculously came to feed him with bread and meat. Sometime later even the brook dried up because of the drought and the Lord told him to go to Zarephath in Sidon and the Lord said he had commanded a widow in that place to supply him with food. Zarephath was in Gentile country (now part of modern Lebanon). When Elijah arrived in Zarephath he met a widow gathering sticks. He asked for a little water to drink. Then he also asked for a piece of bread. The widow candidly told him that she didn’t have any bread – only a handful of flour and a little oil. She was gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for herself and her son that they might eat it and die. Elijah told her:

Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.

The widow did as Elijah had told her, and the miracle happened, for the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (In short, a miracle of unlimited roti canai!)

On a more serious note, studies have shown that hunger make people obsessed with food. They also reported fatigue, irritability, depression, and apathy.[1] There are historical records of human cannibalism among starving populations. Hence, we can’t give short shrift to this magnanimous action of this Widow. She pushed beyond human capability and fought against her own human needs to put the needs of another ahead of her own. She was indeed extraordinary and deserved the special commendation the Lord Jesus Himself gave her (Luke 4:26).

I was inspired to write this article by 2 friends, J & S who though not widows are single mothers. They fell on hard times after divorce and have their own stories to tell of their struggles and hardships in bringing up their family on their own. Yet they can also tell of the providence of God.

J was basically living month to month with her meagre salary. Her children remember her sitting on her bed crying when she couldn’t decide which bills to pay first. But miraculously they survived and now looking back on the difficult period, J still doesn’t know how they did it. For one year, J was contemplating making some rice porridge (to stretch the rice) with “kicap” for their Chinese New Year eve dinner. Lo and behold, 2 days prior to CNY relatives came over and gifted them with a roast chicken and Miranda soft drinks. God provided the CNY eve dinner! She also recalls the Pastor who on 2 separate occasions handed over to her an envelope with her name on it. They contained gifts of cash from an anonymous donor. The Pastor said the envelopes were found in the offering bag of the Church, although J never told anyone of her financial constraints.

S, is another generous woman. She didn’t meet an Elijah, but God gave her special gifts – the gifts of flower arrangement and cooking. She managed 2 jobs, accounting by day and flower arrangement at night. This courageous woman managed to support her family and even send her children to study overseas. She too reminds me of the widow of Zarephath. Her jug of flour and jar of oil never ran dry.

Did they experience fear? Of course, they did. J tells me that her hands used to tremble whenever she received her salary. She says she never wished this pain on anybody. S reiterates the same, she never wants to ever go through the period of fear and pain again.

Fear and faith go together. If there is no fear, why would anyone need faith? The widow of Zarephath certainly experienced fear, in fact Elijah had to reassure her “Don’t be afraid …” Personally, from my experience it is inaccurate to say that if you have faith, you have no fear. Fear and faith come together. It’s part of the territory. This is the paradox of life, just like there can be no faith if there is no doubt.

It’s only natural for any human being to experience fear. However, fear on its own can be debilitating and paralysing, it’s just hopeless. We need faith in God to muster up the courage to face the fear to just continue to do our best. In that sense, faith is more a verb then a noun.

Sometimes we just need to let go of the past, even our future expectations, and let the matter just run its course and trust God to see us through. It’s like letting go of our oars while tossed by the storms of life. This requires faith too. We need wisdom to know when and what to do next, or to do nothing.

There will be moments of darkness when its pitch black. There will also be moments of great elation when we manage to navigate the storms and see the hand of God in the adventure.

Sometimes in special moments of grace, faith breaks through and there are moments of immeasurable peace despite the circumstances. Feelings of fear and faith can feel like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. Sometimes, you are screaming all the way.

The heavy burden of fear can also be halved and divided when shared among caring friends, family, and community.

Perhaps we in BLC do not face any such famine or drought of a physical or financial kind. But possibly some of us are facing a famine of hope, a famine of kindness, a famine of love. Perhaps the Widow of Zarephath holds the key – give a small piece of hope, kindness or love to another, then the Spirit of hope, kindness and love can come in. Perhaps the first act of hope, kindness and love is the catalyst to open up the reservoir in our hearts. May your jug of love and jar of hope and water of kindness never run dry.

[1] The psychology of hunger – American Psychological Association Oct 2013 Vol 44. Starvation Syndrome – Minnesota Starvation Experiment

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